From Publishers Weekly
In this pithy discussion, renowned scholars debate the American penal system through the lens—and as a legacy—of an ugly and violent racial past. Economist Loury argues that incarceration rises even as crime rates fall because we have become increasingly punitive. According to Loury, the disproportionately black and brown prison populations are the victims of civil rights opponents who successfully moved the country's race dialogue to a seemingly race-neutral concern over crime. Loury's claims are well-supported with genuinely shocking statistics, and his argument is compelling that even if the racial argument about causes is inconclusive, the racial consequences are clear. Three shorter essays respond: Stanford law professor Karlan examines prisoners as an inert ballast in redistricting and voting practices; French sociologist Wacquant argues that the focus on race has ignored the fact that inmates are first and foremost poor
people; and Harvard philosophy professor Shelby urges citizens to break with Washington's political outlook on race. The group's respectful sparring results in an insightful look at the conflicting theories of race and incarceration, and the slim volume keeps up the pace of the argument without being overwhelming. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
With 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. accounts for 25 percent of those who are imprisoned. What does that say about American values? asks economist Loury. Those statistics suggest that the U.S. is a punitive society targeting its punishment disproportionately more often at the poor and racial minorities, stigmatizing huge segments of the population, he asserts. Starting with that premise, Loury invited commentary at a forum on race and incarceration from three scholars: Pamela Karlan, Tommie Shelby, and Loic Wacquant. The result is a slim book that is, nonetheless, a penetrating look at the troubling trends in incarceration in the U.S. and the broader impact on American society. Karlan highlights voter disenfranchisement of blacks and offers a historic perspective since Reconstruction. Shelby explores the complexities of individual choice and social structure and the responsibility of society to explain the consequences of individual actions to the poor people most likely to be incarcerated. And Wacquant emphasizes economic class as a greater indicator than race of who is likely to be incarcerated. --Vernon Ford